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Cordless interview series: 25 september 2023

Martin Girtley
Senior Customer Support Manager at Urban

In this episode of the Cordless Interview Series, Martin Girtley, Senior Customer Support Manager at Urban, talks about the crucial elements for success in the Customer Support industry, especially as the landscape continues to evolve.

Thriving in the fast-paced world of customer service can be hectic. But as we know, the key to success lies in the feedback loop. Here's how Urban leverages customer feedback to enhance not only its product but overall business operations.

Prefer to read? Here is the full transcript of the interview:

Luba: [00:00:03] Uh, great. So welcome to the Cordless Interview Series where we talk with customer support leaders about what's going on in the space and how they're approaching building up their teams. Today, I'm very pleased to introduce Martin Girtley, Senior Customer Support Manager at Urban. Welcome, and thanks for joining me today.

Martin: [00:00:23] Hey, no, thank you very much for inviting me along. Yeah, great to be here.

Luba: [00:00:29] Great to meet you, too. Um, to get us started, could you please introduce yourself and maybe say a couple of words about your background and customer support career so far?

Martin: [00:00:39] Yeah, for sure. So as you say, my name is Martin Girtley, so I am the Customer Support Senior Manager here at Urban. Um, in fact, in a couple of days I've been here for seven years, so am pretty much one of the OGs. Um, I started as a started seven years ago. I started my journey with Urban as being Representative and then progressed from there to become more senior. Um, so became a Supervisor, then became Team Leader and then now Senior Manager. Um, my background is mostly customer support. It's I've been doing customer support since I was probably around 15. Um, so working in bars and then working in a debt debt helpline as a debt helpline adviser, shall I say. Um, and then of course, now working at Urban.

Luba: [00:01:32] Okay. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. Because given all of this experience over so many years, what do you think is the most important thing to make customer service a success?

Martin: [00:01:44] Um, gosh, yes. I think that having the ability to adapt to ever-changing scenarios, definitely. So, you know, as we all have, you know, over the last three, four years, um, you've just got to be able to adapt to those big different changes. Um, but if you can do that, then of course, you know, everything's a breeze pretty much from that point onwards. So I'd say as well, you know, both internal and external factors. So obviously external factors like, you know, Covid, cost of living crisis and such like that, but also internally as well. So, you know, as a company for us, um, you know, we're very ambitious and continuously launching new treatments at features and such like that as well. Um, for me, customer support isn't just, you know, because a lot of companies will just go, oh, you know, it's the same across the board, like a copy and paste sort of thing. Um, it's, you know, it has a mixture of different priorities and responses. So having your own identity to showcase, you know, your great support and attentiveness to the clients is something that's going to be, you know, something that everyone will cherish, definitely. Um, I think with what at Urban, I feel based on, you know, the industry that we're, we're in at the moment, there is a whole lot of different interactions and it's ever-changing. Um, so, you know, we truly need to adapt, definitely, for sure. Um, equally understanding the customers that we serve and the expectations is definitely key as well because that just shows how we can best then support them, really.

Luba: [00:03:22] Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. Um, yeah, I guess to build on that. So of course customers come to you with problems and feedback about the product, and as you say, things always change and you have to adapt to it. How do you make sure that this feedback loop is there, let's say with the rest of the business, with the product team and so on?

Martin: [00:03:42] Um, so yeah, so, you know, feedback is massive. So, you know, it's hugely welcome at Urban for sure. Um, we work really closely with our product sorry customer support. So we work really closely with our product and engineering team. To give them insights into what's going off, what's been requested, what's what feedback are receiving. Um, we also do that into focus groups as well. You know, anything that's to do with bug fixes as well. So we do all of that. Um, we equally work of course with a lot with the marketing operations as long as the finance team as well. So from our perspective, of course, you know, we sit at the centre of the company because we are ears and eyes, pretty much so, yeah.

Luba: [00:04:30] Um, do you have any advice for anyone trying to build out that collaboration between teams of how to set it up or any particular processes that you feel work for you very well?

Martin: [00:04:40] I think definitely being open to, you know, anything that's being suggested, but also because like you can go forward with suggesting your own ideas, you know, or even ideas from clients and therapists as as we work with. But having that thought of thinking as a collaborative space, but also having the factor of like thinking win-win as well, you know, to make sure that it's across the board. It's not just going to be benefiting for one department, it's going to benefit everyone. Um, so I think just having that respect to listen to, you know, to understand, um, but also as well to, you know, throw all the different thoughts in and then go right, this, this is the best way to go forward with that.

Luba: [00:05:29] Are there any tools that you use to make sure this process works? More easily in teams.

Martin: [00:05:36] So. So you mean as in like. Like technology and such. So. So we, we do communicate a lot. Of course, as everyone does with Zoom and obviously with Slack as well. Um, so, you know, it's mostly, you know, having like little huddles here, there and everywhere. Um, and.

Luba: [00:05:54] I mean more for like feedback collection, let's say, where you categorize that feedback and maybe that's where the product team picks it up or something like that.

Luba: [00:06:02] Yes.

Martin: [00:06:03] So, yeah, so, so mostly on Slack then. So we do, we utilize Slack like, like it is like our bread and butter in a sense. Um, so you know, we've got a plethora of channels that we do use where we're like, okay, so this is like say a product escalations channel or a collaborative channel and such like that for where we'll share ideas and such. So we create workflows, you know, and say, right, okay, so this is the feedback we're receiving. Let's work together on, you know, obviously getting a common ground of what we can do to fix that, pretty much so, yeah. So we pretty much collaborate that way. But of course, we do have huddles. We do have face-to-face zooms like that too. Obviously, hash that out as well. So yeah.

Luba: [00:06:49] Yeah, yeah. I mean, yeah, for us also we use Slack a lot for, for this kind of thing and collect customer feedback there. Yeah. It can be really, really powerful for sure.

Luba: [00:06:58] Yeah.

Luba: [00:06:59] Um, cool. What is your biggest challenge right now in terms of how you're building out support?

Martin: [00:07:06] I wouldn't say it's a it's a really weird one. I wouldn't say I wouldn't say it was a challenge. I'd say it's more a goal in a sense, is just to like make sure that we keep our staff. So staff retention pretty much, Um, we, you know, of course, empower our agents to, you know, to have their own autonomy, make their own decisions and such like that. And we invest in the tools to allow them to do their best work. Um, so, you know, I wouldn't say it's too much of a challenge, but it is something that, you know, it is a priority of mine to make sure that of course those goals are being met. Pretty much.

Luba: [00:07:43] Yeah. Yeah. Makes sense, I guess with a large team and especially when there is high turnover, um, it can be quite hard to maintain the consistency of support and the quality. How do you go about doing that? Do you have any advice or tips and tricks?

Luba: [00:08:02] Yeah.

Martin: [00:08:03] I'd say with, you know, with any size team across the industry, um, it's about ensuring obviously of course the team have the right tools, they've got their own resources and they've got all the training from the onset, not just throughout their journey with obviously whoever they're working with. Um, I'd say with us at Urban, we do foster and support. We do have a um, sorry, say it again. We have, we have fostered and um, a really, really good team of, you know, being able to approach us with any sorts of queries and such like that, um, and are very supportive, um, the team that we've got at the moment. So it consists of myself, and then we have a supervisor as well. Um, and then of course the agents, we do regular training sessions with them. Um, this will be mostly to do with things that are like existing as well as new processes. This is just to ensure that of course, everyone's on the same page. Um, but as you can imagine, you know, especially with the industry that we're in, you know, there's going to be over 35,000 different scenarios in which one will come up only once in your whole lifetime, or it'll be something that'll be just so regular that we're like, okay, snap straight away. It's there's the answer. So yeah, but I think that in terms of tips and tricks, I think it's just to make sure that those different areas are definitely embedded across, the team. Um, but I think as well, for me, it's all about talking and communicating about the different um, processes that we've done and just like, okay, do you understand this? Do you know, do we want to dip more into this or, you know, is there something else that we can add as an extra layer to, you know, to increase that understanding and expectation? Pretty much.

Luba: [00:09:58] Yeah.

Luba: [00:09:58] It sounds like it's quite open rather than scripted in terms of interactions and how you train the team pretty much.

Luba: [00:10:07] Yeah.

Luba: [00:10:08] Um, so on that, I guess today, these days everyone talks a lot about Chat-GPT and how AI will transform customer support. It's one of my favourite questions to ask customer support leaders. How are you thinking about this? What is your perception and is there anything you're trying at Urban?

Luba: [00:10:26] Yeah.

Martin: [00:10:28] So it's it's everywhere, isn't it? Well, you know, in terms of how AI is working, you know, we don't see it ever replacing, of course, any of our team members and such like that. Definitely not. Um, we do use a little bit of AI tools, you know, for auditing and speeding up processes that we do have. So it's more of like a helping hand tool as opposed to actually full interaction and such like that. So, you know, creating templates and things like that. So yeah, so we don't see it as being like a definite takeover for sure.

Luba: [00:11:07] Yeah

Luba: [00:11:07] But yeah, do you plan to maybe experiment with this more like, do you see the future of integrating the smart Urban, of actually interacting with customers or for you, it's no, no, it's always will be humans to humans.

Martin: [00:11:20] Yeah. The human touch is definitely one for me, you know, because, you know, I'm old school. You know, we've, we've been in the industry for, you know, over 20 years, 25 years. So, you know, it's it is something that I want to make sure that, you know, the human touch is definitely the better one because, you know, your interaction is better with the person, um, you know, and that, you know, the deviation from a person from AI can sometimes just be mixed up in that respect. So yeah, I think more. In the sense of actual people is the best way forward for us, really.

Luba: [00:11:57] So let's say just to be devil's advocate, so one of the arguments for it is that it would speed up the response time sometimes, which could be useful for informational requests and things like that. How do you feel about it or is it still a no?

Martin: [00:12:17] Do you know what? Yes, it would, you know, speed up time and such. And I suppose looking back on, you know, different interactions and different types of interactions, it probably would help, you know, to definitely speed up those sorts of situations. Um, but you know, on the other side of that is that you know, those interactions still need someone at the end of them in a sense. Um, so, you know, for me, I don't think that it's something that, you know, I would like to go down the route of, but, you know, never say never as they say.

Luba: [00:12:50] Yeah.

Luba: [00:12:51] Yeah. No, I totally understand the caution around this. Um, I often hear that customer support is thought of as a cost centre in an organization. Um, what do you think about this statement and how do you approach managing this perception within your organization for your team and...

Luba: [00:13:14] Yeah.

Martin: [00:13:15] So, yeah. So I think that you know, in terms of. That sort of situation, you know, without crucial insight into CS and such, the business wouldn't be able to grow. Um, so you know, I think that. Yes, I think just having like an efficient CS team is definitely a key for a business. You know, there's ways to keep in without obviously, you know, keeping it lean in that sort of respect without obviously becoming a complete sinkhole in a sense for obviously costing. Um, but, but yeah, I think that it's, it's definitely needed. It's definitely the centre of our business in a sense.

Luba: [00:13:57] Got it. Is there any ways you manage it with your team or for the leadership trying to highlight how important and it is for the for the business and customer outcomes? I guess again, like any tips for the other Customer Support Leaders or how to, you know?

Martin: [00:14:14] Yeah, I think it's again, adaptability, you know, being able to adapt to different situations, but also, you know, implement a process around that new, you know, that new process or new situation that's evolved itself, you know, and being able to actually go, okay, let's let's have a conversation around X, Y, Z, you know, to obviously overcome that. Um, I think that you know, obviously the way that of course, you know, you've got to look at, you know, demand forecasting, you know, you've got to look at, you know, your if you have stats from years before and such like that to know how to, you know, to obviously staff your, you know your coverage and such like that as well. Um, but I think as well just you know making sure that you have superstars within your team. Um, you know, and of course if you've got brand new starters to the, to the company and such like that, make sure that they're also, you know, supported by the superstars who already have, um, to get them to be that good.

Luba: [00:15:15] So yeah.

Luba: [00:15:18] Okay, final question. Can you tell us about a company whose customer service you really admire and why?

Luba: [00:15:26] Yes.

Martin: [00:15:27] Um, so I really, really like Octopus Energy. Um, so I really like the fact that they've got a real good transparency to their customers, but also the support is, is really good as well. Um, I advocate for them because I'm also a customer of them. So I, you know, have that first hand for sure. Um, but I think it's just like, like I say, it's their, their openness to ever-changing situations and such like that. And I can't remember the name of the CEO, but they're always on like a sign-off from the email and they send like little blogs here, there and everywhere as well. Um, and it's it's really good that they are so open to supporting their clients as opposed to let's hide away from the situation with like the cost of living crisis as an example. Um, so I think that they did a really, really good job with that. Um, but yeah, so I think that, you know, if there's anyone that, that springs to mind straight away is pretty much Octopus Energy. Yeah.

Luba: [00:16:31] Yeah, I agree. I'm also an Octopus customer, so I know what you're talking about. I think it's I remember speaking to a senior Leader in Support of Octopus and I think I hope I'm not mixing up, but I think one of the approaches that they have is that they are very much against escalations as well. So their team is trained fully to support on a full suit of questions rather than escalating a customer for particular things, which obviously is a much, much better customer experience where you just don't need to wait or repeat yourself and just like one person can actually deal with your question. So they're definitely very customer-centric. So yeah, they're one of the top of my list as well.

Luba: [00:17:13] Yeah.

Martin: [00:17:14] I love that as well. I tried to do the same thing here at Urban as well, but you know that we ensure that of course, the team have all the tools to be able to answer any sort of questions. And it's most of the times when anything is escalated to a manager in a sense. Um, it's, it's pretty much that it's got to that stage that it needs the manager's input in a sense. Um, whereas we give the tools to the team to be able to, you know, to be self-managerial in a sense. So yeah, so I like that.

Luba: [00:17:44] Yeah, 100%. Um, great. Well, thank you so much for joining me today. I really enjoyed chatting to you and found it very insightful. Thank you.

Martin: [00:17:53] No worries at all. Thank you very much for your time.
Luba Chudnovets
Co-Founder and CEO